I remember exactly where I was when I heard that the World Trade Center in NYC had been hit by two planes. I was in middle school and we had just came inside from recess when my friend told me what had happened. I remembered the panic that seemed almost tangible in the hallways and I remember the one teacher who actually let us watch the news during her class.
However, many Americans (about 20 percent) were too young to clearly remember this defining moment in our country’s history. In order to help these younger students understand the significance of September 11, 2001, a history teacher at Purdue University, Randy Roberts, has begun teaching his students about the day.
“The sense I get is, ‘Something happened,’ and beyond that, things get a little bit fuzzy,” said Roberts. “We have a new generation for whom this is a story. They know it’s an important story, but they just don’t know exactly why.”
The problem is that it is difficult to teach students about an event that is still having ramifications, such as increased security around the world and two subsequent wars. Another problem that keeps many teachers from educating their students on this subject is that the date occurs very early in the school year. Some teachers worry that by discussing the subject so early, they will frighten the students before they even really get to know them.
“We’re finally reaching that point where it is not part of the memory of any [students] except the oldest high school kids,” said Frank Tangredi, a social-studies editorial director for Pearson Education Inc., about including more information about September 11 in history books.
Many young Americans do not know what to believe about the terrorist attacks. There are various conspiracy theories, including one that a controlled demolition is what destroyed the building. But of course, nobody would believe that, right? Wrong. In fact, a poll in March 2010 found that 15 percent of Americans felt that the theory was “credible.”
“I think we’re in a crisis in this country in terms of how to teach it,” said the director of Columbia University‘s Oral History Research Office, Mary Marshall. “The only real sources we have are news and government sources that tend to flatten out the narrative into a political narrative.”
In order to combat this problem, Columbia University has recorded hundreds of personal narratives about the event. Currently, 358 narratives are available to be seen by request. The school has also published a book, “After the Fall: New Yorkers Remember Sept. 2011 and the Years That Followed.” These personal accounts of the event are probably one of the best ways to teach students about 9/11.
“There’s this tremendous humanitarian story that we think is an important part of the 9/11 story,” said the director of the New York Tribute WTC Visitors Center, Wendy Aibel-Weiss. “I think we owe it to the kids so we can share what we’ve learned. It’s the pivotal event of the 21st century.”